No Longer At Ease
How we cite our quotes:
"Look at me," said Joseph…"You know book, but this is no matter for book. Do you know what an osu is? But how can you know?" In that short question he said in effect that Obi's mission-house upbringing and European education had made him a stranger in his country—the most painful thing one could say to Obi.
I know more about it than yourself," he said, "and I'm going to marry the girl. I wasn't actually seeking your approval." (7.70-71)
Obi is smart, and educated in a British university. His parents are Christians who forsook many aspects of Igbo culture to embrace a Western religion. Joseph's doubt that Obi understands what he's doing by planning to marry an osu indicates a fundamental doubt in Obi's African-ness. But Obi responds with anger and justification: his declaration indicates that he believes he is just as African, perhaps more so, than Joseph himself. This passage is one of several that hint at Obi's "postcolonial" identity. Not only was he educated in Western institutions, but his unwillingness to adhere to African customs puts his identity as a true-blue Igbo man in doubt.
Mother's room was the most distinctive in the whole house, except perhaps for Father's….Mr. Okonkwo believed utterly and completely in the things of the white man. And the symbol of the white man's power was the written word, or better still, the printed word…. The result of Okonkwo's mystic regard for the written word was that his room was full of old books and papers—from Blackie's Arithmetic, which he used in 1908, to Obi's Durell, from obsolete cockroach-eaten translations of the Bible into the Onitsha dialect to yellowed Scripture Union Cards of 1920 and earlier. Okonkwo never destroyed a piece of paper. He had two boxes full of them. The rest were preserved on top of his enormous cupboard, on tables, on boxes and on one corner of the floor. (13.24; 27)
Isaac Okonkwo's identification with the things of the white man is evident here; his identity is wrapped up with the power of the white man, and that of the written word. We talk more about what "the written word" symbolizes in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."
"I was no more than a boy when I left my father's house and went with the missionaries. He placed a curse on me. I as not there but my brothers told me it was true. When a man curses his own child it is a terrible thing. And I was his first son."
Obi had never heard about the curse….
"When they brought me word that he had hanged himself I told them that those who live by the sword must perish by the sword. Mr. Braddeley, the white man who was our teacher, said it was not the right thing to say and told me to go home for the burial. I refused to go. Mr. Braddeley thought I spoke about the white man's messenger whom my father killed. He did not know I spoke about Ikemefuna, with whom I grew up in my mother's hut until the day came when my father killed him with his own hands." He paused to collect his thoughts, turned in his chair, and faced the bed on which Obi lay. "I tell you all this so that you may know what it was in those days to become a Christian. I left my father's house, and he placed a curse on me. I went through fire to become a Christian. Because I suffered I understand Christianity—more than you will ever do." (14.58-60)
Obi tries to convince his father that, as a Christian, he should not mind that Obi would marry an osu. Isaac asserts his Christian identity by claiming that he gave up everything in order to become a Christian: family, privilege, friends. In this passage, Isaac suggests that Obi does not know what that is like, and has no right to try to use Biblical arguments against his father.